The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

Trading on faith: religious movements and informal economic governance in Nigeria

Kate Meaghera1 c1

a1 DESTIN, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, Strand, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom


The pressures of economic crisis and reform that have gripped African societies have been accompanied by a proliferation of new religious movements. Amid concerns about the political impact of religious revivalism, little attention has been devoted to their economic implications. Focusing on the remarkable coincidence between the withdrawal of the state, the rise of religious movements, and the dramatic expansion of the informal economy, this paper examines the role of religious revivalism in processes of informal economic governance and class formation in contemporary Africa. Against the background of the historical role of religion in the development of market institutions across the continent, it traces the dynamics of religious revivalism and informal economic regulation in two regions of Nigeria. Rather than representing a return to occultist or patrimonial impulses, new religious movements reveal distinctly Weberian tendencies. However, modernising tendencies fostered within the informal economy by popular religious revivalism are being stunted by the relentless pressures of liberalisation, globalisation and pseudo-democratisation. Progressive religious tendencies among the poor are being instrumentalised by religious entrepreneurs and political elites, undermining fragile processes of entrepreneurial class formation taking place within the informal economy.


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